There is no American counterpart to Germany’s critical impresario, Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Known, with a rather pointed admiration, as the “literature pope,” Reich-Ranicki, or MRR, revitalized the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s book section in the 1970s during his fifteen-year tenure as literary editor. In 1988 he became a household name with his hour-long televised talk-show “Literarische Quartett” (Literary Quartet). Six times a year for thirteen years, he and three other critics discussed five books, usually contemporary works, but occasional classics as well. Against all odds and expectations, the show was a success, regularly drawing more than 700,000 viewers. Forefinger waving, MRR could make and break a book with a single word—most often his signature “Herrrrlich!” (wonnnderful!) or “Grössslich!” (horrrrible!).

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